Roving reporter

Capturing the moment

Roving Reporter by Rahul Bhatia at Mumbai

"The moment": Hamish Blair's photograph of Adam Gilchrist letting his emotions rip after the win at Nagpur © Getty Images
It's lunchtime at the Wankhede Stadium, and as the reporters pile downstairs to the Shamiana Restaurant, a solitary figure fights the stream in an attempt to climb up two flights. It's Hamish Blair, the photographer, and he makes a right sight getting up the stairs, slipping past famished writers on the narrow stairwell.
He's protecting the large camera hung around his neck, avoiding the sea of elbows and stomachs and metal belt-buckles on his way up. He takes a deep breath, declines an offer for lunch, and takes a seat in the virtually empty area designated for stadium officials. His white printed shirt and cargo shorts are ideal for today, another warm, muggy day.
Hamish, a Melbourne boy, has been a photographer for close on nine years, and following the Australian team since 1996. "I went to university and did photography for a year. I knew I wanted to do something in photography, but didn't know what." At about the same time, he began working for a sports-photography agency in Melbourne, and after figuring out that life taught you more than university when it came to photography, he joined the agency full-time. "To watch other specialist sports photographers in action was a much better way of learning than university."
There are two sports he's got a passion for: cricket and Australian Rules football. His knowledge of the games helps him take better pictures in many ways, some which he can point out, and others that cannot be defined. "If you're at the WACA, the rule of thumb is that if Brett Lee's playing, you get him to bowl to you. Because chances are, he's going to take wickets, and Brett Lee, when he takes wickets, is pretty spectacular. There are a few other things. You'd like to have a nice background. If possible, you'd like to be at the same end as the players' viewing area, because if anyone gets a hundred, they're likely to look in your direction. But someone might make a really good hundred and they'd score that last run running away from you, and they'll jump up in the air away from you."
He admits: "There is an element of chance to it, because you can only sit in one position." This holds true on most grounds. Even if photographers are permitted to take pictures from different places, it's not convenient to move around, or they might miss a vital moment.
There's something called "a moment" in sports photography. It's the split-second when an incident on the field reflects on a player's face. A picture taken five seconds later cannot convey the emotion of that same moment. "For example, Adam Gilchrist coming off the field after that win in Nagpur. For a few seconds he was looking into the crowds and just screaming. He was just so happy. And it was over so quickly. The raw emotion on his face was ... well, that's the moment."
It's harder to catch the moment in cricket because it is a lengthy game, and you need to be on the ball all the time. "You can go through periods where there may not be much happening photographically, and when something does happen, it could go in a blink of an eye, like that." It's different from other sports, because the action is a lot more intense over a shorter period of time. "Cricket is less intense," Hamish continues, after looking around the stadium. "I mean," he says with a grin, "there shouldn't be any physical contact with the players. If there was, you'd have a really good picture!"
So, besides a fight, what constitutes a good picture? It doesn't have to be aesthetically pleasing, but has to convey the emotion of the moment, and the player's personality has to show through. As we make our way back down to ground level he mentions Gilchrist and Lee as two players who make a good photograph. There's pure emotion when they celebrate. It shows on their face.
We talk for a while, as he clicks the button on his camera the moment ball encounters batsman. He does this every ball religiously, breaking away from conversation a few seconds before the ball reaches the batsman, then rejoining it seamlessly after clicking. Talk turns to Steve Waugh's farewell, and he speaks of capturing the moment he walked off the field. I ask, he answers. Just then, as he looks away from the camera, Hauritz leaps full-stretch sideways to catch Laxman. I reckon he's a little late on the catch of the match. The "moment" we discussed at length this afternoon is gone. It's my cue to make myself scarce.
Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo in India.